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A Berryville electric cooperative has been granted a $263 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to improve almost 1,000 miles of rural power lines, the department said.

It is the largest of 17 electric loan program investments totaling $858 million across several states, mostly in the Southeast. The loans should benefit approximately 450,000 residential and commercial customers, the USDA said Thursday. Total funding includes $64 million for smart grid technology improvements.

The loans will help electric cooperatives keep systems reliable and affordable for those who live and work in rural areas, said Joel Baxley, acting assistant to the USDA's secretary for rural development.

"Investing in our nation's electric infrastructure powers our economy, creates jobs and helps deliver services such as education, training and health care to build stronger rural communities," Baxley said.

Carroll Electric will use the $263,117,000 to improve 998 miles of transmission and distribution line, according to documents with the USDA. The Berryville utility plans to use $8.5 million of the loan to invest in "smart grid technologies" that can handle the deluge of smart devices and other newer technologies entering homes.

In Arizona, the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority is receiving a $94 million loan for a solar facility that provides renewable energy for 26,000 American Indians, documents show. Other states are receiving between $72 million and $5 million for various projects.

Last year, a USDA task force identified more than 100 actions the federal government should consider to improve agriculture and prosperity in rural America, including collaborating with state, local and tribal government. Key findings included improvements to rural Internet access, quality of life and workforces.

U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., issued a statement Friday supporting the USDA's decision to invest in Carroll Electric.

"Our electric infrastructure must be able to meet the energy needs of the future," Womack said. "This investment will unleash new opportunities, helping to enhance grid reliability, create jobs, grow economic opportunity and support our rural communities."

Carroll Electric officials did not return messages left by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for comment on Friday.

Carroll Electric services 97,275 customers across 11 counties in Northwest Arkansas and parts of Missouri. On Wednesday, the co-op reported more than 12,000 power failures in Benton County caused by severe weather.

Most of the town uses Entergy, said Berryville Mayor Tim McKinney, while Carroll Electric services most of Carroll County.

Carroll Electric's loan is intended to upgrade transmission and distribution lines, which carry electricity over poles and wires from generators to residences. Collectively, these lines found overhead or sometimes in the ground are called "the grid."

While McKinney was unaware of the co-op's exact plans for the money, he said Internet accessibility remains a big issue where he is.

"We've got to keep things up," he said.

Business on 06/01/2019

Print Headline: NW electric co-op gets USDA loan

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